"You're sure you don't want me to come in?"
When he was worried, Garrus' mandibles twitched and drew closer to his face; and he was worried now.
Shepard hooked her thumbs into her belt and raised an eyebrow. Whereas she was dressed casually, with her clip on shield generator at her waist and a pistol concealed under her jacket, Garrus was encased in the dark blue shell of his battle-scarred armour, his rifle stowed on his back.
"Trust me. I'd prefer if you stayed out here." The only reason she'd brought him along was because 'Shepard shouldn't go anywhere alone' was the one issue he and Miranda agreed on. They'd ganged up on her.
She felt his disapproving stare on her back as she ducked in Eternity's entrance, purple and blue lights washing over her. This time of evening the bar was reasonably busy but she still immediately scanned the room for the people she was here to meet.
They were waiting for her in the back corner, both wearing black formal wear with gold trim, two glasses of Serrice Ice brandy in front of them. Andre Protin's familiar earnest features lit up in a smile as he saw Shepard and waved her over. As she drew closer she could tell by the the subtle differences in how the fabric of his tunic fell over his torso that he had a sidearm concealed underneath. Smart.
The other figure was a tall rapier of an asari, one that towered over Andre even when sitting down. Her deep blue features bore intricate white tattoos, and she inclined her chin by way of greeting. Unlike Andre, her dress didn't leave any room for concealed weapons, but Shepard had seen her biotics in action. She didn't need any.
Shepard slid into the seat across from the two of them and waved for a drink. "Andre, Nalethia. Evening."
When she'd met Andre at the spaceport she'd been wearing her helmet - a good habit, whatever Eclipse thought. Now, though, she knew the orange-red cracks along her jaw and cheekbones were noticeable. She could hide the ones on the rest of her body, but her face?
She didn't appreciate the newfound insecurity about the scars.
One of the waiters - not the matriarch behind the bar tonight - put a glass of Serrice Ice Brandy down in front of her with a clink.
"Leave the bottle, thanks." Hell, it might take the whole bloody bottle to give her a buzz these days.
"And put it on my tab, please." Major Nalethia T'Resh's glass-cutting accent hadn't changed since the last time Shepard had met her. "Well, Emilia, it's delightful to see you among the living again, but I do wish you'd chosen a better calling card than killing my company commanders and Chief Operative."
Shepard winced, half at the reminder, half at her name. "In my defence, I did give them all a chance to surrender. Well, except for Enyala. I am sorry about Wasea."
Nalethia's smile briefly flickered from its habitual hauteur to something more rueful and then back again. "Indeed. I do apologize for the confusion on that last mission, speaking of Enyala. Had we known that was a relative of one of your colleagues we'd been hired to help move, we'd never have taken the contract."
"Please...it's Shepard, if you don't mind." She knotted her hands together.
Confusion flickered over the face of the two mercenaries, but Nalethia nodded her assent, followed in short order by Andre. "Very well, Shepard. Do forgive me. Old habits-I remember the last time we shared some Serrice Ice."
Shepard took a swig from her cup, enjoying the burn, "Thanks for meeting me. I know I must've caused you some headaches the last couple of months."
"To be honest, we weren't sure it was you until we pulled the feeds from Wasea's armor." Nalethia looked over to Andre and reached over to gently scratch at her Captain's shaven temple. Andre's eyes went wide and he leaned his head on Nalethia's shoulder. "But I will admit we were all on edge once we'd heard what had happened on Omega."
Andre managed to break free long enough to nod his agreement. "Yeah, you really scared the company there, Lady Sederis was fuming. So far as I'm aware they're still rebuilding out there."
Nalethia sipped her brandy again, still idly playing with her bondmate's hair. "Quite. I won't go so far as to say it's water under the bridge with the sisters. You've cost us people and materiel. But those of us who have been at this a while understand it's a hazard of our mutual profession."
Shepard inclined her head. They were mercenaries and she was - a soldier still. Her tone was dry, "I don't expect Sederis' forgiveness. This...isn't an Alliance operation though, so I hope she doesn't feel the need to blow up a barracks or anything."
Direct confrontation with CSpace militaries wasn't the done thing for the Big Three if they wanted to stay in business, especially for Eclipse and the Blue Suns, who operated in CSpace, but Sederis had a temper.
Nalethia laughed. "Oh, goodness no. Lady Sederis was furious, no doubt-to be frank, I think after Anhur she took it rather personally-but we'd had our suspicions before that."
Andre's face lit up as the asari waitress came over with something very fried and very cheesy, and set it out before him. He took a healthy bite, and proceeded to wash it down with a swig of Serrice Ice. The waitress gave Nalethia a look of flabbergasted disgust, but at the Major's shrug she departed without further comment.
"Yeah, so." Andre swallowed. "You iced Morl on Lorek. Alliance didn't know that the Rawlings snatch had taken place, but Cerberus sure as shit did. Between that, you running around with Ms Lawson…not hard to put the pieces together."
Shepard's stomach grumbled. She'd have to get some greasy food later - after the Serrice Ice Brandy. She took another sip of her drink. Her expression was grim. "I'm still a Spectre. But yeah. There's some people in the Alliance right now who'd love to toss me into a cell."
Andre shook his head, and lowered his voice. "Nevermind them, what about you? What happened on Akuze...I'm surprised you haven't dumped a mag into Lawson."
She flinched despite herself. Akuze was like a wound that never quite healed. "It's...complicated. You know about the human colonies getting snatched in the Terminus?"
Nalethia arched a brow. "You mean the ones that are allegedly being hit by the Collectors?"
"No allegedly about it," Emilia replied, "I have confirmation. I was on Horizon when it got hit, and definitely bugs."
Andre and Nalethia exchanged glances, and the former downed the remainder of his Serrice Ice. Now it was Nalethia's turn to lean in. "Curiouser and curiouser. Our intelligence networks have been picking up some very interesting chat about them, of late. Two items of which pertain to you in particular, I believe."
Shepard raised an eyebrow, "Anything you can tell me would be a great help. I don't exactly have the AIA on hand for this one."
Nalethia smirked. "We'll discuss price points for a retainer later. The first-your old colleague Ashley Williams has a price on her head from the Collectors, to be captured alive. Our naval assets in the Amun system pinged a massive ship lurking on the edges of the system at the same time she was there. Sensor profiles corresponded to no known vessel in our database...but it does track with images released from the colony of Horizon, and the report of one First Lieutenant Ashley Williams."
Shepard went very still, carefully letting go of her glass to ball her fists in her lap, tight enough that her knuckles blanched. It'd been foolish to assume that the Collectors' interest in Ash had ended with Horizon - but still the thought of the Collectors hunting her, of bounty hunters wanting the payout-
It sent a sharp shard of fear into her chest, quickly followed by cold anger. She was going to kill them all. Every last one of them. They'd killed her crew and now they were still trying to capture the woman she loved?
She looked up and gave Nalethia a tight smile, knowing her expression had gone cold and hard. "Well, if you could let everyone in your network know that I'll kill anyone who tries to collect that, that'd be great."
Nalethia T'Resh's own smile was cold as the Thessian seas, but there was an understanding tinge to it. "But of course, Emilia. I've already informed my people. I cannot speak for the rest of the sisterhood but I will be sure to pass the word along."
Andre's expression was grim, eyes tracing the glowing red cracks in her visage. When he spoke, his voice was sympathetic. "The other is that we learned the Blue Suns were contracted to recover your body. Might be worth running down that lead to see if it leads you to any bugs worth stomping."
She grimaced, suppressing a shudder. "Thanks for the trips. I'll look into it. A tip though - unless you've got a battlecruiser, I'd suggest Eclipse naval assets steer well clear of Collector ships. They cut through the best ship in the Alliance Navy in half an hour. Didn't even get a single fuckin' shot off."
"Indeed. We're already advising to steer clear but we will be sure to reinforce that guidance." Nalethia poured herself and Shepard some more Serrice Ice. "Now, if business is concluded...it is good to see you alive again. Have you any time to spare to catch up with some mere mercenaries as us, or do you have to go save the galaxy now?"
Andre was grinning, and even Nalethia had the faintest hint of a smile.
She smiled at that, a real smile. "I guess I could make the time. How's the last few years treated you two?"
Andre's guileless smile widened. "You mean besides being bonded and all that?"
"Officially," added Nalethia, giving Andre an amused look. "Dearest, I knew after Anhur there was no way I was letting you go."
"Congratulations," she said sincerely, "not that I doubted you two would at all."
"Thanks," said Andre around a mouthful of cheesy appetizer. "It's been interesting. There was that counterterror op you were here for a bit of, but since then it's just been smaller-scale work. Live and work on Illium, use it as a staging area for a quick op here and there...think the longest we've been off-world since rotating here has been a couple months. It's weird. You were special operations, you understand."
"Yeah. I lived off ships for a while though - lotta ground to cover in SASOC. Think I'd prefer Illium, not gonna lie. Heard there's been a lot more security contracts offered in CSpace since the war, your lot gotten any of that?"
Nalethia took an extra-long sip of her brandy at that, giving a very satisfied nod. "Very much so. Eclipse has...well, let's be honest, a rather poor reputation in Citadel space. But when your alternative from the major security players are the Suns, that certainly narrows down options for the more discerning customer. Did you know we're out on Bekenstein now, of all places?"
Shepard made a face, "Boy, do I. But that's - good for you guys."
Nalethia paused, then burst out laughing. "Oh, Goddess, don't tell me-the Hock estate?"
Shepard sighed. "Yeah. You know Hock had the head of the honest to God Statue of Liberty? And Michelangelo's David? I wanted to try and smuggle the statue out the door, not going to lie. Sadly it didn't fit in the shuttle."
"We were wondering who was ballsy enough to knock off that place. Figures it'd be you." Andre had a look of intermingled shock and amusement on his features. "We'd heard stories, but Roe kept that place locked up tighter than a Prothean relic."
"Men like Hock, you get them talking and half the time they hang themselves," she replied with a shrug, "and I had a good team. Roe was definitely good, though."
"I never met her." Andre shrugged. "Heard stories though."
"I had," said Nalethia. "An absolute tyrant, but in an environment like that it's too easy for your people to get soft. I don't agree with that sort of leadership style-it's very turian-but I can see the reasoning behind it. Were you able to make free with anything smaller?"
"Sadly most of it was too big to move. Did get a couple of nice guns though, and David is back in Florence."
"There's a free pizza joke to be made in there, somewhere," observed Andre.
"Likely not, dearest, the Commander isn't quite so cavalier with her cuisine as you are." Nalethia gave Andre a patient look. "Don't think I've not seen what you're pairing with Serrice Ice."
"I dunno. If the Italians want to give me pizza, I won't say no."
Andre's face had a guilty cast, but not so guilty that he didn't pour himself some more Serrice Ice. He was also kind enough to top off Shepard. "You know, we really didn't get all that much after Anhur. The troops who rotated in to relieve us, oh, sure, but that's cause the locals couldn't tell fresh grunts from us battered bastards."
Nalethia chuckled. "Just be happy redeployment was so quick, my dear. The Alliance didn't treat you quite as well, as I recall."
A wince from Andre, at that. "Yeah. True."
"Green Machine runs right over people sometimes. You seem to have found your place though, Andre." She downed the second glass in record time. She was just starting to feel it, finally.
"Got lucky." Andre paused, as if weighing something, and then took an emphatic sip of his drink. "Not many people will hire someone with a Cat-6 on their record."
"Yeah. It's bullshit. I nearly got tossed out after Akuze, but they wanted to parade me around, with the Star of Terra and all that crap. Then I nearly quit."
Andre gave Shepard a rueful smile and reached over to take Nalethia's hand. "For me, it was the Blitz. I feel you. But we've found new homes, now. Even if...they're not quite what we expected."
Shepard wouldn't call the SR2 home. Her home was still behind her. But she gave the mercenaries a tight-lipped smile and raised a glass. "To old friends and new beginnings."
"Damn, that's a one big boat," Sergeant Hernandez whistled, craning her head to look at the viewing port. Ashley Williams looked over her shoulder, arms crossed over her chest.
The SSV Orizaba was certainly impressive. The newest Alliance Kilimanjaro class dreadnought, only nine months out of her space trials, her white and blue paint gleaming in the dark. She was fourteen times the size of the seventy metre long Achilles, her sleek metal flanks ascending above them on the viewing deck as the corvette carefully inched closer to the dreadnought.
"Never seen a dreadnought before?" Ash raised an eyebrow.
"Hey, not all of us got up close and personal with the Destiny Ascension."
"One tour," Ash mumbled. The Republican High Command had given the Normandy crew a chance to tour the huge flagship after the Battle of the Citadel. She still didn't understand a lot of the design choices, but the Ascension wasn't called Queen of Dreadnoughts for no reason.
"We're ready for disembarkation, ma'am," Sūn came up to her, dressed in clean fatigues, a cut on his jaw neatly stitched. "Wounded first."
"How is Okri?" Ash asked, aware of Hernandez listening.
"He's…upset," Sūn said, which was Sūn-speak for despondent, "and his leg is…It's good the Orizaba has a full medical department."
"Yeah." She watched as the docking tube snaked out from the Orizaba to secure the Achilles close to her.
"He'll get over it."
Ash gave him a disbelieving look. "Get over-"
"Lieutenant," he interrupted, giving her one of those looks - the look of a Master Sergeant directed at a lieutenant he thought was being a bit dumb. She didn't much care for it. "You never get over a dead Marine, but…I hope the kid will understand why we couldn't go back. You knew Ling longer than any of us except Jaz. I know it was a hard decision to make. Okri - he's new to this. All the rest of us, we get why what happened did."
"Yeah, we'll see."
"We should have a drink for Ling when we get back to Arcturus," Tyler said.
Ash nodded. The Achilles shuddered as the airlock met docking tube. "That's our cue."
Colonel Pacwanar, Spectre Maetok and Lieutenant Broudier were waiting at the airlock. The bruising on Pacwanar's face had faded to yellow and greens, his eye socket concealed behind a dressing.
"Wounded have been handed over to the Orizaba's medical department," Gabe told her, arms crossed.
"Thank you," she said, sincerely, and got a tight smile in response. "What about him?" She nodded at Pacwanar.
"I am going with your intelligence operatives," he said calmly, "I believe they wish to debrief me."
"Right. Well, good luck." Ash extended him a hand and, after a moment, he took it and she shook it, amused despite herself at the flash of befuddlement that crossed his face.
"You don't trust your own intelligence service?"
"No one in their right mind trusts a spook," she shot back, ignoring the eye roll that earnt her from the Spectre.
"A life philosophy I can understand," Pacwanar huffed a laugh, and then tilted his head to the left, "Stay alive out there, Lieutenant Williams."
She stepped back to let him pass and he went down the tube alone, shoulders squared and head up.
Ash wondered what would become of him, after the AIA had their pound of flesh. She wondered when she'd started to care what happened to a batarian soldier.
"Well." Gabriel cleared his throat uncomfortably, twisting his hands together behind his back, "Good luck with Admiral Hackett, Ashley."
"Thanks," she said, and there was an excruciating moment where she wondered if they were supposed to shake hands or even hug or something - finally she settled on a nod and stepped into the airlock.
When they made their own way down the docking tube, a naval lieutenant was waiting for them. She looked like she'd been ripped right off a recruiting poster with her dark, slicked back bun with not a hair out of place, and her pristine white dress uniform, out of place on the Orizaba's flight deck, usually manned by grease monkeys in colourful vests.
"Spectre Maetok, Lieutenant Williams, I am Lieutenant Singh, Fleet Admiral Hackett's aide. He's asked me to bring you to him," she said, posture exceedingly upright.
Ash shrugged, "Yeah alright."
Lieutenant Singh was very tight-lipped company, whisking them through the Orizaba's warren-like corridors with silent efficiency, not leaving them much time to even breathe or take in the dreadnought, let alone talk to anyone.
"In here," Singh said, gesturing to a door labelled Fleet Admiral, her expression remaining utterly impassive. She'd make a damned great poker face.
Ash took a moment to breathe in, rubbing her face, wondering if she looked as tired and deflated as she felt. Victory like this never tasted sweet. Then she squared her shoulders and stepped through the door.
"First Lieutenant Ashley Williams reporting, sir."
Fleet Admiral Hackett looked up from his desk, sharp blue eyes settling on her. "At ease, Lieutenant. Spectre Maetok."
He folded his hands, "Take a seat."
They settled across from him and Ash found herself rolling her shoulders, tension settling between the blades. Anderson could be a hard man when he needed to be, but she always found Hackett almost unsettling in his intensity - and the knowledge that she was reporting to the highest authority in the naval service.
"Firstly, my condolences about Corpsman Ling, Williams. I understand the two of you served together in the Eden Prime War."
Her chest twinged and she had to speak through a sudden knot in her throat. "Yessir. Thank you."
"I've read your preliminary report - especially the part about the husks. You're certain?"
"Sir," she licked her lips, "I was there during the Battle of Constant. I know a husk when I see one - and that's what got Ling."
The realisation that dawned on her - that how and where Ling died would probably be classified - settled uncomfortably in her gut. He died doing something that mattered - but his family would never know.
Hackett sighed, leaning back in his chair, "So you were right. The batarian government - or at least elements of it - has been compromised by indoctrination."
"It makes sense," Maetok said coolly, steepling long, thin fingers, "They're an isolated, militarised rogue state with deeply paranoid leadership. The batarians were uniquely vulnerable."
"Which means the war I've been trying to prevent may happen regardless of what the Alliance does," the admiral's voice was flat.
"Makes sense," Ash put in, "easier to roll both of us if we're busy fighting each other."
Hackett nodded perfunctorily - as if they weren't discussing a potential galactic war. "There may be nothing to be done in the end, except prepare, but forewarning is still better than none. There is one other matter." His brows drew together into a scowl, made all the more menacing by the low light and the thick slash of scar tissue across his face, "And that is why, Spectre Maetok, you didn't give a copy of the files you took from Okran to Lieutenant Williams."
The Spectre didn't look at all intimidated, meeting the admiral's icy stare with her own inky black one, "Lieutenant Williams isn't an intelligence analyst."
"No, she's not," Hackett agreed, "which is why I won't blame her for not insisting on a copy. However, you know better. You know a copy needed to be given to the Alliance representative so we could examine it ourselves, especially given Alliance assets were used to obtain it and Alliance personnel were injured and killed in the process."
Ash didn't much care for being spoken about like she wasn't there, but in this case discretion was probably the better part of valour. She pressed her lips together and bit her tongue.
"I'm not sure you really wish to play this game with me, Admiral," Maetok's thin lips twisted.
"I don't play games, Spectre."
Ash wondered if the two of them would even notice if she made a run for it.
Maetok leaned forward, her blue-grey face twisting into a mask of fury, "The information I took from Okran included technical data from their project, yes, but it also included intelligence reports and readings from spy satellites. There were at least three recordings made by the batarians that showed detonations within Alliance space, detonations that produced dark energy readings. Ra'elok isn't just paranoid - the Alliance is conducting dark energy weapons research, in violation of the Citadel Conventions."
"Uh. What?" Ashley was starting to think this conversation was well, well above her paygrade. Neither of them so much as glanced at her.
Hackett's expression didn't change, "A bold accusation."
"I wonder what Councillor Sparatus will say when I bring evidence of your 'Project Crucible' to the Council?" Maetok goaded.
"If Councillor Sparatus is unaware of Project Crucible, then that's the fault of his own government, not mine," Hackett said calmly.
"What?" Maetok looked a bit like a gaping fish. It was kind of satisfying.
"Maetok, have you seen the numbers from the Battle of the Citadel?"
"Of course I have," the salarian said warily.
"The Reapers are coming," Hackett's voice was plain, "and the Alliance is doing everything it can to prepare - with the full knowledge of the Primarch Assembly. I don't need to tell you how that is in stark contrast to Linron's government, or the Republics."
Maetok's mouth flattened into a line. "So you're what? Asking me to keep this to myself? Trust an expansionist species with an illegal superweapon?"
"Technically the Citadel Conventions doesn't outlaw Tier Three superweapons, it just prohibits using them on garden worlds," Ash added helpfully. Hackett's resulting stare was arctic. "Shutting up now, sir."
"I don't want your blind faith. I want you to do what a Spectre is meant to do - place the good of the galaxy above all else."
"I need to think," the Spectre said shortly.
"By all means," the admiral's tone held a hint of irony as Maetok rose to her feet and left the office.
"Sir," Ash began when the door cycled close behind her.
"Williams," his gaze fixed on her like the prick of a knife, "if you breathe so much as the word Crucible to anyone - even Anderson - I will not only take your commission, I will make you wish you'd never been born."
She gulped despite herself. She'd rather run towards a machine gun than this. "Understood, sir."
"Sir?" She was on thin ice, but she needed to know. "During the raid - Spectre Maetok said she was evaluating me. Why?"
Hackett studied her and she shifted uncomfortably. "You're far from stupid, Lieutenant, you know why. You were a preliminary Spectre candidate, and Spectre Maetok wished to see you in the field before she decided if she'd put in the formal recommendation."
Her? A Spectre? Her chest felt weird and tight. She'd signed up to be a Marine - not - "It didn't go well. I don't think she likes me."
And it was mutual.
"She put in the recommendation after you rescued Colonel Pacwanar."
What. "What? But we fought constantly," her head hurt.
"They don't want yes men in the Spectres, Williams," he said patiently, "in her words, you are both competent and intelligent enough for the Office. From the Alliance's perspective, you've shown your incorruptible and duty-driven nature."
Ash swallowed. "What does this all mean, then? What happens now, sir?"
"The next step is to work and train with Spectre Maetok."
There was a hard knot in her chest. "You're taking my command off me? This standard operation with Spectre candidates? I have to give up my career to work with someone I can't stand? You did this to Shepard too-"
"Williams," he cut her off, "Shepard - she was the first, and while there were other candidates, I think it had to be her at that moment in time. I won't sugarcoat it. We twisted her arm because she was needed. But you aren't Shepard and the circumstances aren't the same. So no, I will not order you to join the Spectre program, but I will ask you to."
"Sir, I'm a Marine," Ash stared down at her hands. A Marine with a talent for surviving, but that was it.
"The Alliance needs a Spectre," Hackett said plainly, "who knows what's coming and can be trusted. I, and others, believe you to be the right person."
"I need to think about it, sir," her voice was low and thin enough to be a whisper.
He just nodded, "You have until the Orizaba arrives back at Arcturus Station. Dismissed, Lieutenant."
A whole thirty hours to weigh up her future. Wonderful.
"I…don't need that long, sir."
The door slid open silently and for a moment, leaning against the doorframe of the berthing her team had taken over, Ashley took the moment to study her Marines. Hernandez was asleep on a bunk, blanket balled into a makeshift pillow. Jaz was playing something on his omnitool, dark eyebrows drawn together in concentration - and she felt a sudden jolt of affection for him and his stupid mustache, for all of them. Would she have ever climbed out of that post-Alchera darkness without them?
Ling's absence was like a wound, a hole where his quiet intensity should have been. Any conversation was low and muted.
Ash rapped her knuckles on the metal bulkhead. Hernandez started awake.
"Boss," Jaz smiled, "You survived!"
"Very funny. I've got two bits of news for you all," she glanced around to make sure all of the Raiders were paying attention, "Firstly, furlough has been granted, so you can all actually see your families for once."
"Yaaay," Hernandez lazily fist pumped.
"The second is uh, well, I'm being reassigned as soon as we reach Arcturus, so you'll be getting a new team leader. I don't know who it'll be yet, but-"
"Wait what?" Charger asked, heavy eyebrows drawn together, "What do you mean? Our cycle hasn't finished yet."
The MSOT was always on a cycle, with members electing to stay in the 103rd at the end or go back to conventional units. A change of command right now was unusual.
"I'm not - I can't talk about it."
"Look, if that frog bitch got you into trouble-" Hernandez began hotly, sitting up like she was going to go fight the brass herself.
"I'm not being punished, okay? I know it's unusual, but this isn't me being relieved. I…I don't know who will be the new team leader, but in the meantime Sūn will be acting, and if I find anything further before I hand over, I will let you guys know." She looked in between them. It wasn't a punishment. Being offered a chance at being a Spectre - it was an honour, even if Ash didn't know that it was what she would have chosen for herself. "And not to get too sappy or cliche or whatever, but it has been a privilege to lead you guys. Watch your corners and keep each other safe."
"Oorah," came the echo.
She nodded and turned away. She made it exactly five metres down the passageway before she heard footsteps.
Jaz, of course. She turned. "Jaz-"
"You're going with that Spectre, aren't you?" his mouth twisted, "I don't trust her!"
He could be a dumbass sometimes, but he wasn't an idiot. Ash should've known he'd figure it out. She let her shoulders slump for a moment, "Yeah. Look, neither do I particularly, but I have to do this."
"But…" he looked almost lost, "if I'm not with you, who will watch your back?"
For a moment Ash's chest squeezed so tight she couldn't answer. Jaz put on a good sense of humour and a smile like it was a suit of armour, but he'd been through far too much. Virmire and Alchera had killed his best friends. The thought of him going into a firefight without her there on his six felt like a vice around her chest. "I'm a survivor, Jaz. I'll be okay."
"I just…fuck it."
The next moment he was hugging her, tight enough to squeeze all the air out of her lungs, and after a surprised second, she hugged back.
Internal Systems Alliance Naval Correspondence 2185:
From: Chief of Defence
To: Commanding Officer, 63rd Scout Flotilla
While your concerns are noted, the officer exchange program is not up for debate. Regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, the turians are our allies and partners now, and your security concerns are without basis. The turians already have knowledge of how the Ain Jalut's stealth systems work, considering they helped design the prototype in the first place. You will integrate the turian exchange officers are ordered or I expect your resignation on my desk on Monday.
From: Major Lee Riley
To: Commanding Officer, Operational Detachment November
Trust me, I'm as frustrated as you are re: Trident. Never trust a bunch of colonial hicks to do the job right is the moral of the story here. I can attempt to track down the escapees if you want, but I think they've probably scattered across the Traverse by now. I'll give it to Cerberus, they know how to keep one step ahead.
I have some leads re: Pegasus Cell, and with your permission, I'll put a B Team on it.
From: Commanding Officer, 45th Logistical Support Squadron
To: Commanding Officer, SSV DANUBE
Please find attached your movement order and manifest. I must reiterate the important of operational security. Keep a tight lid on your crew and follow your orders to the letter. I know transporting a bunch of eggheads from the Bureau of Ships along with metal is weird, but just stick them in a cabin or something. Remember, the rebuilding of the fleet is in our hands.
45th Logistical Support Squadron
Attachment - Cargo Manifest
200 crates (Citadel Standard) Element Zero
400 crates (Citadel Standard) Platinum
400 crates (Citadel Standard) Steel
100 crates (Citadel Standard) Iridium
10 crates (Citadel Standard) Synthetic Diamond